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Some of you were a bit confused about yesterday’s post, even going so far as to proclaim it as an attack on the stat of on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS). Nope. Have used OPS a lot over the past 10 years and will continue to as I feel a growing majority of readers can easily understand it.
No, yesterday’s post — as the title said — was about the Mariners doing better offensively.
As I said, the M’s were 16th in runs scored in MLB but had played more games than other clubs and were probably about 20-23rd in average runs scored per game despite having a 27th ranked OPS. A few of you asked why I didn’t just throw out their runs scored per game stat to begin with and part of it was merely the act of walking some less stats-advanced readers through the process of explaining the lag between OPS and runs scored.
So, anyway, just to help others, the M’s are indeed 21st in runs per game scored, which is not as high as 16th, but, as written here yesterday, is much better than being dead last on an historical level as we’d seen the past two years.
Now, as for the lag between OPS and runs scored, I did feel it was important to delve into it a bit as it broaches the sometimes taboo topic in some corners about the difference between a good stat in theory and why managers and teams do things on the field that confound us.
Photo Credit: AP
Once again, for those who didn’t get it the first two or three times, OPS is a good stat, one that this blog uses all the time as most of you know.
But…and a big but here…like any good stat, it relies upon a significant sample size of games to be effective. Over the course of an entire season, you’d expect OPS and runs scored to be pretty reflective of one another. Indeed, the top five teams in MLB run scoring last year were also all top-5 in OPS.
But it doesn’t always work out that way.
Toronto was 6th in runs scored last year but only 11th in OPS.
It helped that the Blue Jays hit a bunch of home runs with guys on base. Other teams created a lag by doing other things well.
In Seattle’s case this year, there is clearly a difference between a 27th best OPS and a 21st best runs per game scored.
For the M’s, their OPS is hurt by the on-base part of the equation, where they sit 29th. Their slugging percentage is ranked 24th best, while their batting average is 25th best.
So, with all of those numbers, how did the M’s make it up to 21st in runs per game scored?
One idea that came to mind is that they are being more timely with hits when there are runners in scoring position. Remember, that was a big problem when the team was losing on the homestand prior to the previous one just completed and while in the midst of a seven-game losing streak.
But overall, the M’s this season are 18th in MLB batting average with RISP. And batting average in this case is important — even if an “empty” one full of just singles — because any old hit at all can often get a runner home from second base. Still, the M’s are faring better than in past years at slugging with RISP, sitting 21st.
And once again, this isn’t to denigrate OPS. The whole OPS discussion yesterday was more of a side issue in looking at why team managers place a greater importance on RISP than do fans and bloggers who like to discuss advanced stats in theory. Those who study baseball stats in detail will tell you that hitting with RISP isn’t really a skill, but something that merely reflects how a team hits overall. If the Red Sox hit .278 as a team last year, their .280 average with RISP was merely refelctive of that and not a skill.
Fair enough. But there are many ways to get to that final balanced-out number and to lift your overall batting average. And games won and lost during the interim will not always balance out as neatly as final hitting numbers are theoretically supposed to.
And the more runs you score over those small samplings, the more you win. And the more you win, the more confident your human players become. The more likely they become to perhaps lift their overall offensive performance and RISP numbers as they move forward. Maybe they’ll lift that OPS nice and high by season’s end and keep their run total ranked where it is or better without leveling off.
So, that’s why teams care about hitting with RISP and executing and getting the runs across any old way. That’s why Eric Wedge wants players to “slow their heartbeat” and not grip the bat too tightly with runs on the line. That’s why teams juggle guys around in the lineup when they are hurting the middle of a batting order. It’s why they are more focused on maximizing the “now” part of the equation — knowing that a 17-game losing streak in July will likely mentally impact how the team performs long after that stretch is done. Knowing as well that some coaches and managers may not be around to finish a season if their team loses 17 in a row.
Anyhow, no biggie. Just trying to bridge the gap between those who view baseball through a stats-eye and those who want to understand why things don’t always play out the way they think a by-the-book approach should. Hint: it isn’t because the people participating in the games themselves are dumb or don’t understand baseball. It’s because they do understand baseball. The human part.
Last year, the M’s were a .222 hitting club with RISP and .232 overall. So, no, they weren’t the exact same hitting club with runs on the line. They were worse. Plenty of them tensed up. Now, what if they’d “slowed their heartbeat” early, delivered in some key situations and won a few more games in June and July? Would that have lifted their overall offensive performance as well as RISP numbers the final few months?
We’ll never know.
Maybe the M’s would have been a .250-hitting club with RISP and a .246-hitting squad overall. Maybe they’d have won five more games.
There isn’t a stat out there to measure that potential confidence impact. But it’s a manager’s job to try to get his team there. To the point where even an early-season glitch in numbers (like a six-place gap between OPS and runs scored) might be enough of a confidence-booster to push his club higher.
So, to recap:
OPS is a good stat. But scoring runs is the most important thing a team can do.
And right now, the M’s are 21st best at it in baseball, even if their OPS is only 27th.
No, that’s still not enough to contend. And yes, they would help their cause by getting on-base more in order to take advantage of some of that extra pop in their batting order they finally appear to have — as opposed to the popgun offenses of 2010 and 2011. The M’s will have to do that, eventually.
But right now, the M’s are coming through with RISP better than in past years. And it matters. Maybe it’s a stats fluke. Or, maybe a product of players being calmer with stuff on the line. But teams care about this stuff. And when you’re an M’s fan, given what the past two years put you through, you should smile and hope any old improvement leads to something more permanent. Again, maybe it will and maybe it won’t. It’s up to the players from here, not me or you. If the M’s go 0-for-20 with RISP in New York and all of their numbers drop, then that will be that. If they go 10-20, then maybe they take off and have an even better offensive year. We don’t know what comes next. We’ll see.
And oh, yeah, OPS is a good stat. Did I mention that?